By the time you read this column, the 2021 version of the “Burbot Bash” on Flaming Gorge will have closed its online registration. Due to COVID-19 precautions, no onsite registration can take place this year. So, if you are not already registered, you will have to wait until next year.
Instead, let’s take a look at how to fish for burbot regardless of whether or not you fish the “Bash.”
A burbot is a cod-type fish that goes by several names: ling, ling cod, and of course burbot are the most popular. To me, burbot look like a cross between a catfish and an eel. They can and will quite literally wrap their tails around your arm or hand while removing the hook after being caught.
Their meat is white and very tasty. My wife, Jeri, loves to make burbot ceviche a time or two each winter. Although they were illegally introduced (stocked) into Flaming Gorge Reservoir almost two decades ago, there is no limit on the numbers of burbot you can catch. In fact, you still must kill any burbot you catch.
Burbot are most active at night so night fishing for burbot is becoming more and more popular as the years go by. Although most burbot fishing takes place in the late fall and through the winter (ice anglers can’t wait to catch burbot each year), they can be caught year-round if you follow some general instructions.
The first thing to do is find rocky points that move from the surface to around 40 feet. Cliff edges, rock piles, and transitions from rock to sand or mud also attract burbot. Burbot love to eat crawdads (crayfish) and will congregate around where crawdads like to live which are in the above-mentioned areas. Burbot like water between 5 and 40 feet but can be caught (at times) in 100 feet of water.
They like to hang out near the bottom but just two weeks ago my friend, J. R. Brown of Manila, caught a nice burbot in 25 feet of water while trolling for kokanee salmon on a bright, sunny morning.
The key to consistent burbot “catching” opportunities is to go fishing when the fish are most active which is still between dusk and midnight, and then from 3 a.m. to sunup.
If you want to catch burbot regardless as to whether you are ice fishing, fishing from a boat, or even from the shore, the tackle is very simple and straight forward.
I like to use 1/4 to 1/2-ounce ball or football head jigs dressed up with glow-in-the-dark grubs or tubes. Then, I tip the jigs with a thumbnail-sized piece of sucker, carp, or chub meat.
Then, you simply cut about 20 holes in the ice (if ice fishing) and drop your lines down to the bottom in roughly 15 to 40 feet of water. Reel up a couple of inches and wait for the fish to find you. It’s really that simple.
On Flaming Gorge, you are able to use six rods while fishing through the ice, so by drilling 20 or more holes you have at least three opportunities to completely change holes (six rods at a time) while not frightening the fish each time you drill new holes.
If you opt to use six rods, be sure to space your auger holes some distance apart so you can cover more of the shoreline, points, or cliffs, without needing to move too far. Some of my buddies spread their holes in an area perhaps 2,000 square feet in size.
Though the burbot bash will have to wait until next year for most of you, grab some friends and family and head to Flaming Gorge anytime after Jan. 31 to get in on some great ice fishing and with a chance to catch some great pup lake trout in the day and burbot after dark.
Once you learn to catch burbot, it won’t be just the burbot getting “hooked.”